The Conversation to Have with Your Doctor after a Heart Attack

February 10, 2016

This year, an estimated 735,000 Americans will have a heart attack, and for 500,000 of them, it will be their first. Navigating life after a heart attack can be filled with anxiety and uncertainty, so it's important to talk to your doctor and ask questions.

What should I do after a heart attack?

“Patients that have suffered a heart attack are at an increased risk for having another heart attack within the first couple of months,” says Theresa King, RN, cardiac rehab nurse with the AACVPR-certified BSA cardiac rehabilitation program. While cardiac rehab has been shown to reduce the risk of death from a recurrent heart event, experts believe only 20 percent of eligible patients are taking advantage of such programs.

When should I start cardiac rehabilitation?

Medically-supervised cardiac rehab can slow, stabilize or even reverse the progression of cardiovascular disease. “It is important to participate in cardiac rehab after any heart event, because the heart has been stressed or compromised and is more susceptible to additional injury,” explains King. “Completing a cardiac rehab program can improve heart function and overall health, including lowering one's heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar.”

Do I need to be in shape first?

No matter if a patient has run marathons or does not participate in regular exercise at all, there are no physical fitness requirements to begin cardiac rehab. Each patient is evaluated on a personal level to determine their baseline for rehab.

“A patient’s activity level before a heart attack does not indicate what their exercise level will be after a heart attack,” shares King. “It is important to gradually reintroduce exercise after a heart attack. The patient’s cardiologist will work with our cardiac rehab team to consider multiple factors, such as the location of the heart damage and current physical activity status to determine the appropriate exercise prescription for each individual.”

What is a good cardiac rehab program?

Cardiac rehab is more than just getting back on the treadmill or recumbent bike. Anyone who has suffered a heart attack or is recovering from a heart procedure should not consider cardiac rehab as just gradually getting back into exercise. It is a comprehensive program of monitored exercise, education, counseling, support and life-long maintenance.

“Endurance and physical fitness can significantly change after a heart attack, depending on the area and amount of damage to the heart muscle and coronary circulation,” says King. “While it is important for a patient to resume physical activity when cleared by their cardiologist, their heart may not be able to maintain the level of activity they performed prior to the heart event. It is imperative to begin exercising slowly and increasing gradually, rather than resuming exercise at the same intensity you were performing prior to the heart attack. This is why it is important for your doctor to prescribe a medically-supervised outpatient cardiac rehab program.”

For more information about the BSA Cardiac Rehab Program, call 806-212-0700.